All of us hope for the best when we experience the birth of our children. We anticipate their first steps, their shining faces as they learn to ride a bike or the joys of throwing a ball in the back yard. We don’t expect to be hit, called names and disrespected at every turn. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
There are things parents can do to increase the chances of preventing some of these severe and painful behaviors, but ultimately every child is different and each has the ability to choose how they will act. There are no guarantees. Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a negative cycle and we aren’t sure how we got there or how to change it. For some parents, this kind of struggle becomes a regular occurrence and a steady drip of negativity starts to wear on them after days, months and even years of trying to deal with severe behaviors the best way they know how.
A Painful Question
I recently received the following question from a reader on Facebook.
“I’m wondering if you have any resources for parents that feel resentment toward their child? How can they overcome this resentment and build a healthy relationship again? I have a friend (a father) that is experiencing this. He wants it to change but is struggling to heal from this resentment.
My friend’s son has been diagnosed with ODD, ADHD and more. For years he’s been combative, angry, offensive, etc. Dad’s taken this very personally. So the resentment is from feeling disrespected and virtually crushed by his son. My friend is reaching out for help. He wants it to be different, but he’s reached the point where he’s not even sure he cares or if he can take it anymore. There is a numbness, yet still a thread of hope.”
After pondering this question I felt it deserved a well thought out answer that recognized the intense feelings of hurt and the longing represented in the question. It’s a serious issue that doesn’t have a simple “take two of these and call me in the morning” sort of answer, but it does have an answer.
Resentment is anger and ill will toward another, but it is different than other types of anger. It is a result of broken expectations and the feeling of being robbed or cheated, especially by another that we trusted to honor the things most precious to us. Parents never expect that they will end up resenting their own child.
No parent is ever formally prepared to manage child hostility in their own home. Severe acts of aggression and defiance can also lead to reactive behavior in parents that simply feeds the negative cycle. When a parent reacts negatively to their child’s hostility they feel guilty for lashing out in anger and frustration. They feel guilty for the yelling, spanking or the continual participation in what seems like a constant power struggle. This chronic negativity and hurt can often lead to resentment. Then the resentment leads to further deregulation, pain and suffering. A cycle of pain and resentment begins and worsens with each revolution.
Healing the Cycle…
I’ve seen these cycles countless times as parents march their children into my counseling office. They want things to change but don’t know how. They sometimes wonder if there is hope for reviving their damaged relationship. My response to every one of these has always been, “You are never too far gone when you have a desire and resolve to connect and grow. There is not only healing, but growth ahead!” Look optimistically toward the future, for when broken things are mended, the bond is strengthened beyond what it was before. The solution to healing the cycle and making weak things strong is found in your APP’s.
There’s an APP for everything
No, not that kind of APP. I don’t have some new I Phone app that heals resentment, but people say all the time, “there’s an APP for everything” and indeed there is. As a TRU Parent we have an APP for healing resentment and other negative emotions we feel toward our children. The TRU Parenting APP stands for…
As we evaluate and consciously use these three principles to intervene with our feelings of negativity and resentment towards our children, we can gain better control over our thoughts and emotions. This exercise helps to build healthy patterns that can bust through the bands of resentment and promote new relational horizons for parents and children.
Attitude: Overcoming resentment requires a positive attitude:
Resentment is generally defined by negative attitude toward the individual. It is a predisposed focus on the past negative aspects of that person and the relationship. In order to change this we can’t just tell ourselves, “Stop thinking negatively!” That is much like asking a person NOT to think about a pink elephant dancing in a tutu. All you can do is think of the jungle ballet.
To change our attitude requires a conscious inventory and written record of the positives. It often takes forgiveness to go down the road of identifying and dwelling on the positive aspects of this child that we feel has hurt us so badly. Remember, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” (Unknown) Make a conscious effort to let go of the pain. Acknowledge the past but don’t let it rule your thoughts. Release yourself from Responsibility FOR your child’s responses or reactions and focus on your responsibility TO your child by managing your own attitude and responses.
Exercise: Assertively write and speak your intention to be happy and to have a thriving relationship again. Identify and write down at least five positive things about your child and reasons you love them. Post them somewhere that you will see them at least each morning and evening. Recite each positive attribute every day. Say something like, “My son is incredibly creative. I love that about him.” Make a specific effort to smile while you practice this exercise.
Perspective: Have an understanding and empathetic perspective
Be aware of your own perspective as well as your child’s perspective. Dare to see the flaws or biases in your own perspective. Take ownership for your emotional response and recognize that it comes from your own perspective and expectations. This helps us to relinquish blame and see things more clearly and objectively. Consider your own contribution to past and present conflicts. Seek to see the situation from their perspective. Consider your child’s struggles, frustrations, and their unique point of view. Making specific efforts to see their perspective helps us to understand and experience empathy rather than trying to maintain our own position at all costs. It promotes compassion and forgiveness because we start to see how we would like others to consider our perspective as well.
Exercise: Think of a time when you had a conflict with your child. Honestly try to put your own perspective aside and see things through their eyes, both figuratively and literally. Think of what the situation looks, sounds and feels like to them. Write it down and then invite your child to tell you about their perspective. Try not to get defensive and refrain from saying anything. Just listen.
Programming: Be aware and proactive about our programmed responses. Program new, more constructive ones.
Set boundaries and make plans to deal with difficult situations in more positive ways. Establish ways to reconnect rather than falling back on old habits and programmed reactions. Forgive and act in positive, compassionate ways. (This can be the most important way to decrease resentment- do it without expecting a return). Give yourself and your child a chance to change.
[Tweet “Give yourself and your child a chance to change.”]
Exercise: Identify one negative, ineffective conditioned reaction that you have and write down one or two positive alternative thoughts or behaviors that you could do instead to foster the growth of the relationship. Some examples might include…
- Negative: Tell him to “stop crying.” Positive: Validate feelings with, “you sound sad.”
- Negative: Yelling. Positive: Lower my voice
- Negative: Watching TV to withdraw when stressed. Positive: Exercise together when stressed
- Negative: Name calling “quit being a twerp.” Positive: “Sweetie, please stop.”
As you upgrade your APP’s your relationship will grow and it will get easier to feel and do the things that healthy relationships are made of. These consistent patterns will establish and reinforce revolving positive cycles that get progressively better over time. How we think and what we do dictate the future of our relationships. “Decisions Determine Destiny” (Thomas S. Monson). These daily decisions are not easy when there is deep hurt, but each one lays a more solid foundation of happiness and love. Each conscious decision heals the wound a little until one day, we look back and realize the resentment is gone and only love remains.
In cases where there is severe resentment due to abuse, other severe trauma or mental illness may require getting professional help. In this case, look for a therapist or coach that can help you through this journey and assist you and your child in reestablishing a cycle of love and growth.